The Roseburg City Council appropriated funds to hire a communications specialist at its regular meeting Monday.
City officials say the position is critical for improving communication with the public, having cohesive messaging, and fielding inquiries from media and other stakeholders.
At its last meeting, the city received criticism from Jeffery Brown, an assistant business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 659, who said creating the position is evidence the city isn’t meeting its obligations to its current workers.
New communications position put on hold
Brown addressed the City Council again on Monday. He reinforced his initial complaints on behalf of 54 IBEW employees at the city and said the union will file an unfair labor practice charge through the Oregon Employment Relations Board once the union receives an official statement from the city about the decision.
“It’s profoundly disappointing that despite the objections raised, this appropriation transfer remains on the agenda with the staff recommendation for approval,” Brown said before the City Council approved the resolution. “Employees do not understand the urgency surrounding the approval of this new position and are feeling ignored, unappreciated and disregarded.”
After Brown spoke at the last meeting, Mayor Larry Rich suggested the city table the proposed resolution so city officials could review contractual obligations to 54 union employees.
The union’s collective bargaining agreement permits a renegotiation of wages if the city’s financial standing improves, and the new position suggests financial improvement, according to Brown. The position will have a $102,000 salary, including benefits.
The union sent a request to reopen negotiations in February based on the city’s annual financial report and budget committee minutes, but the city didn’t agree to renegotiate despite the start of the fiscal year on July 1.
The city’s financial conditions would need to change significantly for the city to be obligated to reopen wage negotiations, according to Human Resources Director John VanWinkle.
The motion to appropriate funds for the position passed 6-1 with City Councilor Ashley Hicks voting no.
“I am sitting with the union in the sense that I think if we’re hiring new positions that they have an opportunity to speak and address the (City Council) from their position,” Hicks said. “I think that as City Council members and elected representatives of our wards that we could do a better job communicating with our constituents.”
She asked city staff whether an AmeriCorps intern could fill the position.
Interim City Manager Nikki Messenger said she thinks the city needs a professional in the position who will take the time to understand each city department.
Other city councilors, including Bob Cotterell, Alison Eggers and Mayor Larry Rich expressed support for creating the position, despite the union criticism.
“This position is long overdue,” said City Council President Tom Ryan. “We need a professional in it.”